Big Ten: Jonas Mouton

Michigan State is conducting an internal review of a possible sportslike conduct violation by defensive end William Gholston in Saturday's win against Michigan.

Athletic director Mark Hollis released a statement Tuesday saying the Big Ten has notified Michigan State of a possible violation. The school is in the process of conducting its own review, which, according to the Big Ten Handbook, but be completed by Wednesday.
"We are thoroughly reviewing the entire game and utilizing all of the available resources: coaches' video from midfield and end zone cameras, TV copy as well as still photographs," Hollis' statement reads. "Once the internal review is completed, we will forward a written report on to the Big Ten."

If Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't agree with Michigan State's findings or potential penalties, he has three business days to reply to the school with a decision. While the process could go beyond Saturday's game between Michigan State-Wisconsin, it would be very surprising if Delany doesn't act quickly.

The Big Ten in 2009 imposed three one-game suspensions for sportslike conduct violations, typically on the Friday before games. Two of these suspensions -- Michigan LB Jonas Mouton and Purdue OL Zach Reckman -- stemmed from incidents after a play, while the other was imposed for a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ohio State S Kurt Coleman.

Earlier this month, Illinois suspended LB Jonathan Brown for a game for striking a Northwestern player in the groin. The Big Ten supported the decision.

Gholston is listed as a starter on Michigan State's depth chart for the Wisconsin game. Coach Mark Dantonio declined to comment on Gholston, citing the ongoing review by the school and the Big Ten. Dantonio said his team doesn't play dirty football.

Although Hollis didn't name Gholston in his statement or indicate how Michigan State will act, he did state, "This is an isolated incident and Coach D and his staff will continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining one's composure during the heat of the moment."

Rarely do these incidents result in no discipline, so it's likely there will be some action taken by Michigan State or the Big Ten. While the process could carry on for a few more days, we'll probably have a resolution before the Wisconsin game.

One thing for MSU to consider: while the Wisconsin game is big, next week's game at Nebraska is arguably bigger as it takes place within the Legends division and on the road. You can make a case that if Gholston is to be suspended, Michigan State would benefit more from having him against the Huskers.
I apologize for the delay, but it's finally time to examine the Big Ten's top candidates to reach 100 tackles or more in the 2011 season. We've already looked at the league's top touchdown scorers (15 or more), 1,000-yard rushing candidates, sack-masters, 3,000-yard passers and top interceptors.

The Big Ten had six players record 100 or more tackles in 2010: Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton (117), Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs (116), Penn State linebacker Chris Colasanti (112), Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson (112), Northwestern safety Brian Peters (107) and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones (106). Seven Big Ten defenders reached the 100-tackle mark in 2010, led by Jones (154) and Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer (146).

[+] EnlargeLavonte David
Brett Davis/US PresswireNebraska linebacker Lavonte David is expected to be among the Big Ten's top tacklers next season.
Nebraska star linebacker Lavonte David actually is the Big Ten's leading returning tackler after recording 154 stops in 2010.

Let's be clear that tackles don't mean everything, and there have been some mediocre defenders who end up high on the tackles charts. I've also noticed that some of the Big Ten's historically elite defenses, like Ohio State, rarely have players approach 100 tackles. This can be attributed in part to good team defense and also to being on the field for fewer plays. So if a player from your favorite team doesn't appear below, it might not be a bad thing.

Still, 100 tackles is a milestone and several Big Ten players should approach it.

Here are the top candidates:

1. Nebraska LB Lavonte David: He set a team single-season record for tackles in 2010 and should be able to surpass 100 stops for the second consecutive year. David recorded 10 tackles or more in eight contests in 2010 and had 15 stops or more three times. It'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to Big Ten offenses, but he's too good not to be around the ball.

2. Northwestern S Brian Peters: I'm not sure Northwestern wants to have a safety eclipse 100 tackles again, but Peters once again could be the team's go-to tackler as it loses two multiyear starters at linebacker. He recorded 10 tackles or more in six games last fall.

3. Penn State LB Michael Mauti: Sure, he only had 67 tackles last fall, but Mauti is poised for a breakout season if he can stay healthy. Mauti has a chance to put up Posluszny/Connor tackle numbers as he continues to mature. Penn State will be a more linebacker-driven defense this fall, and several players -- Mauti, Nathan Stupar, Gerald Hodges -- could challenge for 100 tackles.

4. Iowa S/CB Micah Hyde: Hyde had 82 tackles from the cornerback spot in 2010 and should see that number increase if he plays more safety this fall. Although an Iowa linebacker like James Morris certainly could climb up the tackles chart this fall, Hyde seems to have a knack for being around the football.

5. Purdue S Logan Link: After leading the team with 91 tackles in 2010, Link is poised for another productive season. Purdue has some question marks in the seven front seven, and it will rely on Link and other defensive backs to move down and make plays against the run.

6. Indiana LB Jeff Thomas: Thomas finished last season with 82 tackles, five shy of team leader Tyler Replogle. As Replogle departs, Thomas will move into a more featured role at linebacker and should definitely be in the mix for 100 tackles or more. Indiana's defense also could spend a lot of time on the field this fall, giving Thomas plenty of tackle opportunities.

Also keep an eye on the following players:

  • Michigan LB Kenny Demens and S Jordan Kovacs
  • Iowa LB James Morris
  • One of Michigan State's LBs (Chris Norman, Max Bullough, TyQuan Hammock)
  • Illinois LB Ian Thomas
  • Minnesota LBs Gary Tinsley or Mike Rallis

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
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The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.

Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
  • Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).

NEBRASKA'S DRAFTEES

Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.

  • CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
  • RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
  • K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
  • DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
  • WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
  • OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
  • DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

Big Ten picks by team

  • Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
  • Iowa: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
  • Illinois: 4
  • Michigan State: 2
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • Penn State: 2
  • Purdue: 1
  • Northwestern: 0
  • Minnesota: 0
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • DL: 7
  • OL: 7
  • LB: 6
  • DB: 4
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 1
  • TE: 1
  • QB: 1

Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.

Draft snubs

Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.

Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.
The NFL scouting combine wraps up on Tuesday with defensive backs, but more test results are in for defensive linemen and linebackers.

Defensive line once again is the Big Ten's highest-rated group entering the 2011 draft, as up to six players -- Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward -- could be selected in the first round.

Let's check out the top combine performers from both groups:

Defensive linemen
  • Kerrigan tied for seventh in the 40-yard dash at 4.71 seconds; Ballard finished 12th at 4.8 seconds; Clayborn finished 13th at 4.83 seconds; Watt finished 14th at 4.84 seconds
  • Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
  • Watt finished second in vertical jump at 37 inches; Kerrigan tied for ninth at 33.5 inches; Clayborn finished 11th at 33 inches; Ballard finished 14th at 31.5 inches
  • Kerrigan finished second in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Watt finished third at 10 feet
  • Watt tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 6.88 seconds; Kerrigan finished 15th at 7.18 seconds
  • Clayborn finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.13 seconds; Watt finished second at 4.21 seconds
Linebackers
  • Ohio State's Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
  • Wilson finished first in the 40-yard dash at 4.49 seconds; Rolle finished third at 4.56 seconds; Homan finished seventh at 4.68 seconds
  • Wilson tied for sixth in the vertical jump at 36 inches; Homan finished eighth at 35.5 inches; Rolle finished 12th at 33 inches
  • Wilson finished third in the broad jump at 10 feet, 4 inches; Michigan State's Greg Jones finished ninth at 9 feet, 9 inches; Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter tied for 10th at 9 feet, 8 inches; Michigan's Jonas Mouton and Rolle tied for 12th at 9 feet, 7 inches
  • Rolle tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.89 seconds; Wilson finished ninth at 7.04 seconds; Mouton finished 11th at 7.08 seconds; Homan finished 15th at 7.21 seconds
  • Rolle finished eighth at 4.26 seconds; Jones finished ninth at 4.27 seconds; Wilson tied for 10th at 4.28 seconds; Homan and Mouton tied for 14th at 4.34 seconds
  • Homan tied for ninth in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.76 seconds; Jones tied for 13th at 11.84 seconds

The defensive backs go through full testing Tuesday, but they did the bench-press Monday. Ohio State's Jermale Hines tied for 10th in bench-press reps among cornerbacks with 19 (Hines played safety at Ohio State but isn't classified as one for the combine).

Michigan Wolverines season recap

December, 7, 2010
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Did Michigan make progress in 2010?

The Wolverines' improved record says they did. Their record-setting offensive numbers and their record-setting quarterback suggest strides were made. But Michigan's continued struggles in Big Ten play under coach Rich Rodriguez and its obvious problems on both defense and special teams make the picture pretty cloudy in Ann Arbor.

For the second straight year, Michigan jumped out to a fast start behind a dynamic young quarterback. Denard Robinson was the nation's top player through the first five weeks, setting a series of team records as Michigan surged into the national rankings. Michigan won games simply by outscoring -- or out-Denarding -- the opposition.

Things got tougher in October as Michigan dropped three consecutive contests. Greg Robinson's defense, beset by injuries in the secondary and more preseason player departures, couldn't stop anyone in Big Ten play. Michigan slipped to 108th nationally in total defense (447.9 ypg) and 102nd in scoring defense (33.8 ppg), while the kicking game endured miscue after miscue. Denard Robinson continued to do his part and deservedly received Big Ten offensive player of the year honors, but Michigan repeatedly found itself digging out of big holes against good competition.

Two November wins ensured Michigan would end its bowl drought, but the Wolverines struggled mightily in losses to co-Big Ten champs Wisconsin and Ohio State to end the regular season.

Offensive MVP: Denard Robinson. An obvious choice. Robinson earned Big Ten offensive player of the year honors from both the coaches and the media. He set the FBS single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,643 yards and ranks fourth nationally in rushing average (136.9 ypg). A semifinalist for both the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards, Robinson dramatically improved as a passer, ranking 20th nationally in quarterback rating. He leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally in total offense (329.9 ypg).

Defensive MVP: Mike Martin. Anyone who could stomach watching Michigan's defense saw Martin's contributions at the nose tackle spot. The future NFL player often faced double teams and still recorded six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. Martin gave Michigan's defensive line a chance to compete, although he needed more help elsewhere. Linebacker Jonas Mouton and safety Jordan Kovacs also merit mentions.

Turning point: There are really two for Michigan. Robinson's performance Sept. 11 against Notre Dame sparked Michigan to a 2-0 start as the sophomore broke the Big Ten quarterback rushing record with 258 yards on the ground. He set a team total offense mark with 502 yards as Michigan went on to win its next three games. The other turning point was more of a reality check, as Michigan State handed Michigan a 34-17 loss. The Spartans dominated Michigan's defense and held Robinson in check at the Big House.

What's next: Only Dave Brandon knows. The first-year athletic director hasn't said whether Rodriguez will return for a fourth season in 2011. Rodriguez's offense is clicking in Ann Arbor and he inherited a bad situation on defense from predecessor Lloyd Carr. But Michigan's repeated breakdowns in two of the three phases are a concern, and Rodriguez still lacks a signature win in Big Ten play.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 18, 2010
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You cheated me with choreography. That's the worst kind. You danced without me, Mitchell!

Midseason review: Michigan

October, 12, 2010
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Michigan Wolverines

Record: 5-1 (1-1 Big Ten)

For the second straight year, Michigan reaches the midpoint in good shape, boosted by a dynamic young quarterback and several exciting wins, including one against Notre Dame. The key for the Wolverines is not to let history repeat itself from here on out. Despite some tough games ahead, Denard Robinson doesn't seem like the type of player to let that happen. The sophomore quarterback has been nothing short of spectacular in the first six games. He led the nation in rushing until Week 6 and, perhaps more important, showed growth as a passer after being totally one-dimensional in 2009. Robinson needs to rebound from a three-interception performance against Michigan State, but he has a lot of big plays left in him. The big concerns for Rich Rodriguez are becoming bowl eligible, stemming negative talk around the program if things start to go downhill and finding some answers for a woeful defense. Michigan ranks third nationally in total offense (533.7 ypg) but last in the Big Ten in total defense (450.7 ypg). Greg Robinson's unit continues to suffer major breakdowns, and while the secondary has some excuses (youth, no depth), the front seven must do better. If not, Rodriguez's only hope is to keep winning shootouts, a formula that typically doesn't work in the Big Ten.

Offensive MVP: QB Denard Robinson: Shoelace has been the most exciting player in college football through the first six games. He already has recorded the top three total offense performances in team history and ranks second nationally in both total offense (369 ypg) and rushing (165.7 ypg). Perhaps more important, Robinson is 12th nationally in passer rating (164.1). He can't make mistakes like he did against Michigan State as the competition will get tougher, but Robinson's value to Michigan is not up for debate.

Defensive MVP, DT Mike Martin: Michigan's defense has a chance when the front plays well, and Martin is the anchor of the group. The future NFL draft pick boasts tremendous strength and can be downright disruptive, leading Michigan in both tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (2.5). He might get overlooked on a lousy defense, but Martin plays at an All-Big Ten level. Linebacker Jonas Mouton also merits a mention after recording 56 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and a sack.

Big Ten stock report: Week 3

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
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It's time to check the market heading into Week 3.

STOCK UP

First-year starting quarterbacks: It was another good Saturday for the Big Ten's first-year starting signal callers. Denard Robinson worked his magic again for Michigan at Notre Dame, Northwestern's Dan Persa continued to display remarkable efficiency and both Robert Marve (Purdue) and Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois) picked up their first wins.

Iowa: Iowa State has given Kirk Ferentz's team trouble in the past, but not on Saturday. Iowa delivered an early knockout blow and dominated on both sides of the ball, racking up 479 yards of offense and recording three interceptions in surging to a 35-0 lead.

Chimdi Chekwa, Ryan Kerrigan, Quentin Davie and Jonas Mouton: Chekwa and Davie both recorded two interceptions in victories Saturday, while Kerrigan continues to invade the opposing backfield, tying a career-high with four tackles for loss against Western Illinois. Mouton recorded a career-high 13 tackles and an interception against Notre Dame.

Michigan State's special teams: Brett Swenson left a major void at kicker entering the season, but Dan Conroy stepped up in a big way against Florida Atlantic, converting three attempts from beyond 40 yards (41, 44, 50). Return man extraordinaire Keshawn Martin also showcased his skills at Ford Field.

Illinois' defense: There's a long way to go, but new coordinator Vic Koenning is having a positive effect on the league's worst defense from 2009. The Fighting Illini rank third in the league in points allowed (13 ppg) and fourth in yards allowed (304.5 ypg). Linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson both are performing well, and defensive end Whitney Mercilus provided a boost in the win against Southern Illinois (two TFLs, forced fumble, pass breakup).

STOCK DOWN

Tim Brewster: The embattled Minnesota coach regained a bit of goodwill among fans after the Middle Tennessee win, but he really couldn't afford a loss to South Dakota, not with what's ahead on the schedule. Brewster needs something good to happen quickly to regain some support among the Gopher faithful. As colleague Bruce Feldman tweeted, "After losing to another Dakota school, maybe its time Tim Brewster changes from Play4Brew to Pray4Brew."

Evan Royster and the Penn State O-line: Royster entered the season needing only 481 yards to become Penn State's all-time leading rusher. After two games, he still needs 409 yards to catch Curt Warner. Frustration is mounting, and Royster needs a boost from his offensive line Saturday against a stout Kent State rush defense.

Ohio State's special teams: What in the name of the Sweater Vest is going on in Columbus? Ohio State had a blocked field-goal attempt returned for a touchdown against Marshall. The Buckeyes then allowed a punt return touchdown and a kickoff return touchdown in the same game for the first time in team history. Special teams excellence used to be a hallmark for the Scarlet and Gray. They need to get it back.

Wisconsin's red-zone offense: The Big Ten's top red zone attack in 2009 (53 conversions for points in 56 chances) had a fumble and a turnover on downs following a fumbled snap in the red zone against San Jose State. The missed opportunities prevented Wisconsin from blowing out the Spartans.

Purdue's third-down defense: It was an issue last season, when the Boilers allowed opponents to convert third downs at better than a 40 percent clip. Through two games, Purdue's opponents are converting at a rate of 44.4 percent. The Boilers need to do a better job of getting off the field.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE

(Player, Week 2 performance)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 28 carries, 258 rush yards (Michigan road record), 2 TDs; 24-for-40 passing, 240 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 12-for-27 passing, 233 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; 20 carries, 113 rush yards, 1 TD.

3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 19-for-23 passing, 240 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 7 carries, 13 rush yards, 1 TD.

T-4. Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: 14 carries, 183 yards, TD

T-4. Iowa RB Adam Robinson: 14 carries, 156 yards, TD

T-4. Wisconsin RB John Clay: 23 carries, 137 yards, 2 TDs

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE

(Player, Week 2 performance)

1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Recorded a career-high 12 tackles (nine solo) and matched a career high with four tackles for loss (-19 yards), including a 9-yard sack, while adding a forced fumble.

2. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Recorded six tackles, 2.5 for loss, as well as a blocked field-goal attempt.

3. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded 11 tackles, 1 for loss, as well as a forced fumble.

4. Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa: Recorded two interceptions and six tackles, including one for loss. Leads the league with five passes defended.
As Michigan players celebrated early Saturday evening at Notre Dame Stadium, two thoughts came to mind for many folks.

1. We've seen this movie before.

2. It doesn't end well.

The script goes like this ...

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe hot start by coach Rich Rodriguez's Michigan team this season feels familiar.
Michigan enters the season under intense scrutiny. ... The offseason hasn't brought much joy. ... Coach Rich Rodriguez is under fire. ... The Wolverines open against an opponent believed to be pretty decent and projected, at least by some, to win the game. ... Michigan handles the opponent easily behind the magic of a young quarterback. ... The Wolverines then face rival Notre Dame and provide one of the season's best games to date. ... The young quarterback leads the game-winning touchdown drive and Michigan beats the Irish by four points. ... The young quarterback receives national acclaim ... The Wolverines enter the AP Poll for the first time that season.

There's only a handful of differences between Michigan's start to 2009 and 2010.

  • First opponent: Western Michigan (2009), Connecticut (2010)
  • Young quarterback: Tate Forcier (2009), Denard Robinson (2010)
  • Notre Dame score: 38-34 (2009), 28-24 (2010)
  • First AP Poll rank: No. 25 (2009), No. 20 (2010)

In 2009, the Wolverines fizzled after their fast start, dropping seven of their final eight games to miss a bowl game, an unthinkable result after the Notre Dame win. Forcier had his ups and downs, though he got no help from a defense that melted down faster than a Popsicle in Tucson.

As Michigan left the field after its sixth consecutive loss to archrival Ohio State, destined for another winter at home, the fast start felt like years away.

What's to say it won't happen again this year?

Connecticut and Notre Dame both could be overrated, as Western Michigan and Notre Dame were in 2009. Michigan's defense is still prone to major breakdowns, like letting a tight end get behind everyone for a 95-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, as Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph did Saturday. In the coming weeks, the Wolverines will face better defenses from Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State and Ohio State, units unlikely to get embarrassed by Robinson. And how long can Robinson last after carrying the ball 57 times in the first two games?

These are all valid concerns, and they could come to fruition.

The similarities between 2010 and 2009 certainly are present, but so are several key differences that should translate into a better end result.

Here are three of them.

1. Robinson: His numbers are simply mind-boggling, as ESPN Stats & Information details here. You rarely see players set records like these in their first two career starts. But it's more than the numbers. Robinson is working his magic within the confines of Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. It isn't just a gifted player making plays; it's how Rodriguez's offense is supposed to look when in rhythm. Forcier also dazzled us last season, but he did his best work as an innovator, outside the pocket and, in many cases, outside the structure of the offense. Once defenses forced him to stay in the pocket, he made mistakes. This isn't a knock against Forcier, who showed a ton of guts as a freshman, but in some ways, he was a better improviser than quarterback in 2009. Robinson's passing ability provides another element, and I've been really impressed with his throws and decision-making in clutch situations, particularly on third down. If defenses have to respect his arm, he'll be even more dangerous.

2. The offensive line: Pegged as one of the team's strengths entering the fall, the line has met the challenge. Center David Molk provides a huge lift in the interior, and Michigan has better depth throughout the group. Robinson clearly doesn't need much room to gash defenses, and the line is providing enough. Michigan hasn't allowed a sack through the first two games after allowing 28 last season. The Wolverines need to get their other running backs going, but so far, the line looks solid. Perhaps most important, there's a greater familiarity throughout the offense of what is expected.

3. Defense: Will this be a top-30 defense? No. But it won't be as bad as last season's unit, either. The front seven has some solid pieces, including Mike Martin, Craig Roh and Jonas Mouton, who is stepping up nicely at linebacker after some struggles in 2009. A young secondary remains a major concern and breakdowns like the one against Rudolph simply can't happen, but the upcoming schedule (Massachusetts, Bowling Green, Indiana) should give the group time to mature.

We could end up seeing a 2009 re-run, which likely would spell the end for Rodriguez. Robinson's health is a HUGE concern going forward. And if Michigan falls apart, I'll be the first to say I was wrong.

But this team looks different.

Will Michigan win 10 games? Probably not. But I don't see another collapse, either.

It's easier to buy in this time around.
Two of college football's storied programs meet Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, but the only thing historic about these teams are their helmets. Two spread offenses and two coaches known for their offensive creativity match wits. Both Michigan and Notre Dame recorded critical wins in their season openers, and bloggers Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg take a closer look at this week's matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: So, Bennett, we meet again. Good starts for both the Irish and the Wolverines on Saturday, and it should be a great one in South Bend. Let's talk offense. What do you think Knute Rockne and Fielding Yost would say about these two systems matching up?

[+] Enlarge
Matt Cashore/US PresswireArmando Allen gained 93 yards on 18 carries and scored a TD against Purdue.
Brian Bennett: I think both coaches would have spit in a leather helmet in disgust. What's the over/under on total number of snaps under center on Saturday? Five?

Yet, for all the talk of the spread offense, Notre Dame stuck to an old staple to beat Purdue: the running game. Running backs Armando Allen and Cierre Wood together averaged better than six yards per carry, and the Irish were happy to hand off and stick to the short passing game as the Boilermakers defense played Cover 2 and protected against the deep ball. I don't think Michigan will attack Notre Dame the same way, and the bubble wrap will have to come off quarterback Dayne Crist in Week 2.

As for the Wolverines, Denard Robinson was incredible. But I didn't see a whole lot out of the backs and receivers, and now it looks like Roy Roundtree won't play. Is Michigan a one-man offense, and can it win on Saturday that way?

AR: Good point about the Irish run game, and I think the matchup between Michigan's defensive line and Notre Dame's offensive front could decide the game. Despite the loss of Brandon Graham, Michigan boasts good experience and talent up front with Mike Martin, Greg Banks, Ryan Van Bergan and dynamic sophomore Craig Roh. They'll try to take advantage of a young Notre Dame line that, despite all the talk about weight room progress, remains unproven in my eyes.

Robinson was ridiculous against Connecticut, and you can't expect him to duplicate the performance in South Bend. Then again, the guy only needs about a foot of daylight to break through the line, and then, good luck trying to bring him down. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw both scored touchdowns in the opener, but they'll need to be more effective out of the backfield against the Irish. Roundtree would be a big loss, but wideouts Darryl Stonum and Kelvin Grady, and tight end Kevin Koger all are good targets for Robinson, who also hooked up with Terrence Robinson for a 43-yard gain.

In many ways, Michigan won the UConn game at the line of scrimmage. How do you see the two groups matching up on Saturday?

BB: The Irish played well in the trenches against Purdue, but Michigan presents a tougher challenge. With the way Brian Kelly runs the spread, the ball is out of the quarterback's hand quickly, so that neutralizes the pass rush to some degree. The key in my mind is whether the Notre Dame line can open running lanes when the Wolverines drop men into coverage.

Defensively, the front three for Notre Dame proved stout against Purdue, and surprisingly the backups gave them a solid rotation. Ian Williams looks like a perfect fit as nose tackle in a 3-4, and Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson can make plays off the edge. I think the pressure is on the Irish linebackers to make plays in this game. Manti Te'o should be a stud and the perfect antidote to Robinson, but he missed a lot of tackles in Week 1. Darius Fleming is their hybrid guy, and he was stuck on the sidelines with cramps for most of the Purdue game. Once Robinson gets through the first line of defense, can the Irish contain him in the open field?

How about the Michigan pass defense? Connecticut missed some opportunities there, but the Huskies don't have guys like Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph at their disposal.

AR: Totally agree about Connecticut missing some major opportunities to attack downfield, especially in the first two and a half quarters. Michigan is extremely young in the secondary and likely will be down another starter, as linebacker-safety Carvin Johnson sprained his knee in the opener. Michael Floyd absolutely shredded this defense a year ago, so you can bet Notre Dame will try to get him the ball a lot on Saturday. We'll likely see a lot of Floyd vs. Floyd, as Michigan's J.T. Floyd as emerged as the team's top cornerback and forced a big fumble against UConn. Cue the Pink Floyd music.

I'm interested to see how Michigan approaches Rudolph, a matchup problem for pretty much any team he faces. Linebackers Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh played well in the opener, but they'll certainly be tested by No. 9. Roh brought a ton of heat against UConn, but he might have to drop back more in this game.

OK, Bennett, you're on the spot. Your Michigan-UConn pick didn't work out so great, and some of my new friends in Ann Arbor were calling you nasty names Friday night. Who wins Saturday and what's the biggest key to the game?

BB: Well, I'm happy to play the villain in Ann Arbor as long as they still let me in the bars there. I have little doubt this will be a close game, possibly as exciting as last year's shootout. Notre Dame will have its hands full with Robinson, but I think the Irish have a more well-rounded offensive attack. And they will take advantage of that young secondary while making just enough plays of their own defensively. A special-teams play might be the difference. Brian Kelly gets his first big win as the Irish squeak by.

Now tell me why I'm wrong.

AR: You're always welcome in Ann Arbor. Just tell them you know me.

It'll definitely be a close game, and like last year, we should have a dramatic finish. Michigan's young secondary concerns me, and Crist will make plays downfield to both Floyd and Rudolph. But I also have my doubts about Notre Dame's line play and the overall toughness of that team. Robinson is certainly the X-factor here, and while Michigan can't run him 29 times again, he'll make some big plays. If special teams makes the difference, Michigan could be in trouble. Notre Dame jumps ahead, but D-Rob leads the Wolverines back in the fourth quarter for a narrow win and continues to grow his legend in Ann Arbor.

Practice nuggets from Michigan

August, 20, 2010
8/20/10
5:00
PM ET
My apologies for posting this late, but I finally got a chance to review the Big Ten Network's football preview tour stop at Michigan. The crew of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith attended a Wolverines practice last week.

Here are some nuggets and observations:
  • We get to see Tate Forcier's wing-less helmet very early in the show, although we know now that he has regained his wings. Forcier seemed to be No. 3 in the quarterback rotation during drills, behind both Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. "Denard and Devin got most of the reps today," DiNardo said. But head coach Rich Rodriguez maintains the race is open. Forcier, to his credit, made some crisp throws in the practice.
  • The BTN crew picked Robinson to be the starter when the season opens Sept. 4. Although he misfired on a few outside throws in individual drills, he looked more comfortable overall as a passer.
  • Gardner's size and mobility make him a pretty exciting young prospect. He likely won't be the starter for the opener, but you figure he'll be in the mix at some stage. "He has the most ability of the three quarterbacks," DiNardo said.
  • We learned quite a bit during the M drill, where a running back dashes through a line of four blockers and four defenders. Michael Cox had several nice runs, following a block from tight end Brandon Moore on one play. Kelvin Grady followed a block by Erik Gunderson and shot through the line, while burly back Stephen Hopkins broke through tackles with a powerful run on one play. Defensive standouts in the drill included end Jibreel Black, safety Brandin Hawthorne and tackle Will Campbell, who made a very nice tackle on Hopkins. There also were some good team efforts, including blocks from Michael Schofield and Quinton Washington, and a team tackle by Richard Ash and Jonas Mouton.
  • The secondary remains a concern, but a few players stood out in individual drills. Safety Vlad Emilien had a huge hit against Fitzgerald Toussaint, and safety Josh Furman forced a fumble by freshman receiver Ricardo Miller in a 1-on-1 matchup.
  • There's no reason defensive tackle Mike Martin shouldn't have an excellent year for Michigan. He's got excellent strength and good size at 6-2, 299. "There’s very little he doesn’t do well," DiNardo said. Campbell also looked good in this practice, both physically and with his play. DiNardo thinks Campbell will be most effective when lined up directly over the center. "He's really picked up his game," Griffith said. Griffith also likes the freshman Black.
  • It was really fun to watch Martin and center David Molk go at it in a 1-on-1 drill. A ton of strength in that matchup, which it appeared Molk won. Offensive tackle Perry Dorrestein and defensive tackle Renaldo Sagesse also had a good battle. It was a pretty good day overall for the offensive line. DiNardo particularly likes tackle Patrick Omameh.
  • We didn't see a ton from the linebackers, although the first group in one drill was Craig Roh, Mouton and, yes, Mark Moundros, the team's starting fullback, at middle linebacker. It'll be interesting to see how much Moundros pushes Obi Ezeh and others for playing time.
  • Cox looked the best among the running backs, although several of them have impressive speed, including Toussaint. Hopkins certainly stands out from the group because of his size (6-foot, 227 pounds).
  • The BTN crew really likes Michigan's wide receivers, especially Roy Roundtree. They also noted the play of freshman Jeremy Jackson, one of the team's bigger receivers at 6-foot-3. "They’ve got the right number at wide receiver," DiNardo said. "You can't say that about every position in the program."
  • In interviews, Martin talked about the defense being closer this year, and Rodriguez expressed concern about the kicking game.
There are so many preseason awards watch lists these days, so I'm trying to consolidate them. If you want instant updates on which Big Ten players are being recognized, follow me on Twitter.

We've got three new watch lists out for the John Mackey Award (nation's top tight end), Dick Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) and the new Paul Hornung Award, which recognizes the most versatile player in college football.

Let's take a look at the Big Ten representatives.

Mackey Award watch list (5)
Last Big Ten winner: Minnesota's Matt Spaeth in 2006

Butkus Award watch list (7)
  • Martez Wilson, Illinois
  • Jonas Mouton, Michigan
  • Greg Jones, Michigan State
  • Quentin Davie, Northwestern
  • Ross Homan, Ohio State
  • Brian Rolle, Ohio State
  • Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Last Big Ten winner: Ohio State's James Laurinaitis in 2007

Hornung Award watch list (6)
Last Big Ten winner: This is the first year of award
If you can't tell, our theme today is hot matchups for the 2010 season, the games that are already stoking the fires on college campuses around the country.

The Michigan-Michigan State game in Ann Arbor fits the description, and I'd rather be nowhere but the Big House on Oct 9. But there are other grudge matches in the league this fall, and colleague Mark Schlabach mentions three of them in his top 10 national rundown.

The Michigan-Purdue game on Nov. 13 at Ross-Ade Stadium comes in at No. 5.
The Big Ten matchup might seem like the most unlikely of rivalries, but there's plenty of bad blood boiling between the Boilermakers and Wolverines. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller referred to Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez as a "guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil," and then new Boilermakers coach Danny Hope handed Rich Rod a 38-36 loss in the Big House in '09. The head coaches exchanged words at midfield after Purdue's first victory in Ann Arbor since 1966.

My take: The Tiller-Rodriguez and Hope-Rodriguez spats are totally unrelated, but it's interesting how this particular matchup has created some controversy between the coaches. After Purdue's historic win last year at Michigan, Hope met Rodriguez at midfield and motioned for offensive lineman Zach Reckman to join them. According to Rodriguez, Hope said, "Thanks, coach. Really appreciate what you did," referring to Rodriguez calling for the Big Ten to assess all potential unsportsmanlike incidents equally. Michigan had seen its starting linebacker Jonas Mouton suspended for throwing a punch against Notre Dame, and Rodriguez identified Reckman's late hit against Northern Illinois as another potential violation for the Big Ten to review. The league concurred and suspended Reckman for a game, a decision that didn't sit well with Hope. No one is going to place Purdue among Michigan's top rivals, but last year's incident might add some fuel to a mid-November matchup that could have huge implications for both teams and especially Rodriguez, whose job might be on the line.

Schlabach ranks the Miami-Ohio State game at No. 8.
The teams haven't played since the unforgettable 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which ended with the Buckeyes' winning their first national championship since 1968. Since Ohio State's 31-24 victory in double overtime, fans of both schools have tried to forget about former Buckeyes running back Maurice Clarett, who produced a game-changing strip of the ball and an embarrassing string of off-field incidents.

My take: I tend to think enough time has passed to turn down the heat on any potential Canes-Bucks rivalry, but maybe not. I still get plenty of e-mails about the pass interference call that helped Ohio State win the title. Ohio State seems to have more bad blood with the SEC in general, but it should get a little rowdy in The Shoe on Sept. 11. I look at this as a great matchup, but not really a heated one.

Schlabach lists the Iowa-Northwestern game at No. 9.
The Wildcats handed the Hawkeyes their first loss of the '09 season with a 17-10 upset in Iowa City. Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi missed most of the game with an ankle injury, and the Hawkeyes' 13-game winning streak -- and BCS national championship hopes -- came to a screeching halt.

My take: The more I think about it, Iowa-Northwestern easily could have been my pick for the Big Ten's hottest game in 2010. Iowa fans will never publicly list Northwestern among their top rivals, but they can't stand losing to the Wildcats. Injuries and turnovers certainly have played major roles in the recent matchups, but that's football. Both teams have developed strong reputations for player development in the last decade, taking average or overlooked recruits and transforming them into All-Big Ten players. There's a lot of bad blood between the fan bases, and I know from covering Northwestern that the players always felt Iowa was a rival. Iowa gets a chance to exact revenge this fall in Evanston, while Northwestern can continue to torture the Hawkeyes with a win.
Here's the second half of my interview with Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials Bill Carollo. Don't forget to check out Part I.

How did the officials grade in the five areas of focus?

Bill Carollo: We did a pretty good job on pass interference and helmet-to-helmet hits. Those two areas were in our focus areas. We're right about 95 percent of the time when we throw the flag. It's 5 percent that we're incorrect when we throw the flag, and then there's areas when we don't throw the flag and we should have. Maybe that's another 10-15 percent in some of these major categories. So we're trying to get everyone to a certain performance level that the coaches expect. There could be a mistake or two. We pray that it's not a game-deciding penalty. We just don't want to guess. So if they are only 90 percent sure, it looks like maybe it's [a penalty], we tell them, 'Don't throw it. Be 100 percent sure, and if you aren't sure, just keep the flag in your pocket.' Because guessing, at best you're going to be 50 percent because you don't have all the facts. You see the tail end of a play and you think it's a low block, it's a side block, a crack-back [block], and then when you back and see the whole thing, the guy turned on him, he was pushed into him, there's reasons why he ended up there. So let it go.

Three weeks in a row, you handed out discipline for on-field conduct. What type of message did that send, and how was it received around the league?

BC: Helmet-to-helmet and player safety is probably our No. 1 area that we focused on as coaches and as officials. Because the focus should be on the player. We had some situations that we did obviously take some disciplinary action on certain plays. The conference makes that decision on Monday. I tracked all of our unnecessary roughness fouls, and we called them early in the year, and we told the coaches we were going to continue to call them. And if we get only nine out of 10 right and we missed one and we did throw the flag for player safety, I can live with that. I don't like it. I want to be 100 percent [accurate], but the reality is we saw less helmet-to-helmet hits as the season went. We tracked them by week, all 13 weeks. And our accuracy [in calling the fouls] has gone up. Part of it has to do with some of the training, reinforcing those areas. At the same time, talking to the coaches and saying, 'Coach, that's a foul, and here's the reason why it's a foul, and we're going to continue to call it, so you need to tell the players not to lead with the helmet, don't use the crown of the helmet, don't try to punish, even though you're trying to make a play. And if it's close, you'll probably get a flag.' I'm telling our guys, 'Clean that up,' and we did. So I think the results were very good.

I had athletic directors and coaches disappointed in some of the discipline we did take, and they didn't always agree, but I was comfortable that what we were doing is the right thing, and that's what the NCAA wants. And they knew we were going to continue to throw the flag.

Two of those incidents [Jonas Mouton's punch and Zach Reckman's late hit] were either after a game or after a play. Did you see a reduction in those situations?

BC: It's the same thing. They need to control themselves, and coaches need to control their players. The game is over. The play is over. And we didn't throw a flag on one of those [Mouton vs. Notre Dame]. Any time there is a punch, the rule book's pretty clear. That's automatic. If you don't throw a guy out for throwing a punch, when do you? That's pretty clear. No one likes it. I don't like disciplining the players, especially when they're trying to make a play, a football play. When the play's over and it's not a football play, they don't get as much of a break from me. That's control. That's player discipline.

Now it seems like everyone has a camera and anything that happens will find its way to the Big Ten office. How has that changed during your time as an official?

BC: Dick Butkus used to use a clothesline and that was a great play and it makes the highlights. The game is changing from when I played in the '70s, from when the [Big Ten] coaches played in the '80s or '90s. The game is evolving and changing, and we need to keep changing with it, officials and coaches. And what was just a great football play before is [now] clearly a foul, and it might be discipline for the following game, not just a great highlight. So it's changing, and officials have to spend more time in the spring with the teams and the coaches, and in August, to learn how the game is evolving from a speed standpoint, the techniques that they're doing, the blocking. Understanding the different formations, whether it's the Wildcat, spread offenses, spread-punt formation, whatever it may be. Now there's a lot more options, a lot of things happen, so the officials have to understand the game better than they did when I was working. The officials are better today than when I was in [the Big Ten], but we're demanding even more because the demands and the expectations, because of video, because of television, because there's a camera everywhere, because there's exposure, because of the big stage of the Big Ten, we're putting more pressure than when I was an official in this league 25 years ago.

Any rules changes?

BC: Last year, they decided that we're going to change the rules every other year, which meant last year we received some rule changes, but this year, we should not receive any. And then going into the 2011 season, we'll have changes. However, if it's a safety factor, they can make the exception, and we did that. We took the wedge blocking on kickoffs -- even though it should be waiting till 2011 -- and there's some other rules out there for taunting that we made changes to but won't take effect until '11. But the wedge blocking -- the NFL made the change -- we looked at the numbers, how that affects the game, looked at injuries, and then also looked at how often it happens in the Big Ten. And we've made a decision that we should change the rule this year.

So you can have two players forming the wedge, but once you get to three stationary players forming that wedge a couple yards apart, it'll be a live-ball foul. And that's good. We said you can't low block. Well, once in a while, to get rid of three people, they would throw a low block, break a couple legs in the process, maybe even the guy throwing the block gets injured himself, and it was an area we didn't always catch. So we took at it and said, 'You know what? Let's just get rid of the wedge.' Because then there won't be people low blocking. So I think it's a good change.
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten came down hard on player conduct last season, suspending three players in as many weeks for various on-field actions.

  • Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton was suspended for punching Notre Dame center Eric Olsen following a play in a September game. No penalty was called on the field, but the Big Ten disciplined Mouton after reviewing film of the game.
  • A week later, the league suspended Purdue offensive lineman Zach Reckman for a late hit on a Northern Illinois player at the end of the Boilermakers' loss to the Huskies. Purdue originally suspended Reckman for a quarter, but the league lengthened it to an entire game.
  • Finally, the Big Ten suspended Ohio State safety and co-captain Kurt Coleman for a game following a helmet-to-helmet hit against Illinois' Eddie McGee during a game in Columbus. Coleman was called for a personal foul on the play.

Did the league's hard-line stance on conduct send a message? Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials Bill Carollo thinks so.

"I'm telling our guys, 'Clean that up,' and we did," Carollo said. "I think the results were very good. I had athletic directors and coaches disappointed in some of the discipline we did take, and they didn't always agree. But I was comfortable that what we were doing is the right thing, and that's what the NCAA wants. It needed to be cleaned up, and [coaches] knew we were going to continue to throw the flag."

Officials throughout college football cracked down on helmet-to-helmet hits last season, and Carollo saw a reduction in the Big Ten. He also tracked unnecessary roughness fouls, both the ones called and the ones missed.

The accuracy of calls also increased, which Carollo attributes to officials' increased awareness as well as coaches being more mindful of what would be called.

"If you don't throw a guy out for throwing a punch, when do you?" Carollo said. "That's pretty clear. I don't like disciplining the players, especially when they're trying to make a play, a football play. When the play's over and it's not a football play, they don't get as much of a break from me. That's control. That's player discipline."

The changing environment for media and technology also factors into how the league handles player conduct. Carollo and his staff aren't the only ones breaking down game film, and even if a flag isn't thrown on game day, they'll eventually find out about any questionable incidents.

"Dick Butkus used to use a clothesline and that was a great play and it makes the highlights," said Carollo, who discussed the league's response with coaches this week at Big Ten spring meetings. "The game is changing from when I played in the 70s, from when the coaches played in the 80s or 90s. The game is evolving and changing, and we need to keep changing with, officials and coaches.

"What was just a great football play before is [now] clearly a foul, and it might be discipline for the following game."

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